Get the New York State Senate back to Albany to renew and expand the law authorizing speed cameras around city schools.
That was the message conveyed during a press conference held outside M.S. 88, 544 Seventh Avenue, on Wednesday, August 8 where Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Commissioner Victor Calise was joined by elected officials, advocates for street safety and others who demanded that the Senate vote now to bring back speed cameras in 120 school zones, as well as expand the program to additional schools. The law authorizing the cameras expired on July 25 despite ongoing efforts to push the state Senate to hold a special session to consider legislation extending and expanding it.
“There are close to one million people in New York City with disabilities and there are over 5,000 people with disabilities in this neighborhood alone,” said Calise. “And it’s exactly two weeks since the Senate failed to preserve and expand our speed camera program. That’s two weeks that kids in summer school have gone mostly unprotected. In those two weeks alone, there have been 14 people killed or in critical condition from crashes including an 11-year-old struck in a school zone a few miles from here last Friday. Enough is enough. Speed cameras are a proven way to save lives. It’s common sense.”
“This is a safety issue for children but especially for children with disabilities,” added Caitlin Cassaro, executive director for Extreme Kids and Crew, Inc. and the mother of an autistic child. The organization she said, “Run(s) safe, supportive and fun spaces for our disabled and neurodiverse population of children. We are located in some of these schools and just like our spaces, the streets surrounding the schools need to be safe as well.”
Jane Martin-Lavaud, a member of Families for Safe Streets, whose daughter Leonora was killed by a speeding driver at Avenue U and East Fifth Street in 2013, concurred.
Recalling that her grandfather and great-grandfather, as well as a friend, the conductor of the Kings County American Legion Band, had been “killed by a reckless driver,” she told her listeners, “Most importantly, I’m here on behalf of my daughter Leonora, who five years ago was struck and killed by a reckless driver.
“Like every parent, I expected my children to outlive me,” Martin-Lavaud continued. “I expected them to lead full and productive lives. I had two and now I have one. I’m always tearful but my daughter’s birthday is this coming Monday and she won’t be here to celebrate it with us. So I mourn.”
She added the problem appears to be getting worse. “What’s terribly upsetting to me is I’m apparently a part of a growing community of families who have lost children and other lost ones or have been severely hurt,” she said. “I don’t even understand why this is even a conversation. We need to expand this program to protect all of our community members.”
Executive Director of the Division of Family and Community Engagement for the Department of Education (DOE) Yolanda Torres stressed that the lack of street safety affects the families that DOE serves.
“As a parent and grandparent and representing the Department of Education, I hear the concerns of our parents,” she said. “As families pick up their kids from school today, they don’t have the same level of security they had a couple of weeks ago.”
She contended that the bill needs to be passed before the school year begins.
“As a community, we continue to work towards this challenge and we expect these cameras will be turned on because, at the end of the day, the safety of our students is our priority,” Torres said.
“Our community has continued to speak with such incredible strength around this issue,” added Councilmember Carlos Menchaca. “We have spoken with one voice and we’re asking that the Senate return and do its job. What happens when our participatory democracy fails? We have to come out. As we get closer to election,we have to register to vote and make our voices heard.”
According to the mayor’s office, currently, there are speed cameras at only 20 school zones, and the city can move those zones daily to maximize safety. However, those 20 cameras will lose their authorization to issue speeding violations at the end of August if the state Senate does not act.
“The program has been successful in reducing speeding in school zones,” said Assemblymember Deborah Glick. “The only reason one could give for not reauthorizing it is that the state Senate is more concerned about the rights of speeders than they are about the lives of school children. This is a commonsense program and the fact there is a handful of senators blocking the protection of school students in this city is an absolute disgrace.”
“It is completely absurd that all of us have to stand here this morning and ask the state Senate to do its job. One of the reasons we have to ask them is because of the 32 members of their coalition, the vast majority don’t live in New York City,” added Assemblymember Robert Carroll. “So it’s not their kids or families at risk. Clearly they’ve shown us in the last two weeks that they don’t care about New York City.
If the state Senate doesn’t reconvene to vote on speed camera legislation on its own, Carroll added, Governor Andrew Cuomo should call the entire legislature back into session to deal with the matter.